Widow claims cancer report fell through the cracks, costing her husband his life

Widow claims cancer report fell through the cracks, costing her husband his life

A B.C. woman claims a report with her husband's positive cancer diagnosis fell through cracks in the medical system, costing her partner his life — and her $1-million life insurance policy.

Shannon Nolting is suing several doctors, a clinic and a hospital in the Okanagan area, claiming health professionals failed to notify her husband, Eric, that he'd tested positive for melanoma five years before his death in 2012.

The notice of civil claim alleges Eric went to a walk-in clinic in Vernon — about four hours east of Vancouver — about an irritating mole in October 2007.

The mass was removed and sent to a local hospital for a biopsy, according to the claim. Shannon alleges doctors told her husband he would be called for a followup if anything was wrong.

The claim says a call never came — despite the fact that a pathology report showed Eric had malignant melanoma.

It's alleged that Nolting only learned he had cancer after he went to another doctor complaining of weight loss in May 2012. That physician diagnosed him with Stage 4 melanoma, according to the civil claim. 

Shannon said she and her husband were floored.

"Eric and I were just absolutely in shock. We thought, 'What do you mean? How does that happen?'" she said. "We went home and just sat there."

Lawsuit launched

In September 2012, the commercial pilot filed a negligence lawsuit against the clinic, its doctors and the hospital for failing to convey information about his melanoma.

The 38-year-old father of two young children died in December 2012, before his case was heard in court.

His original civil claim was converted to make the plaintiffs his wife and children.

"Before he passed away, one of his wishes was that I would continue. He said, 'Please promise me you will continue this case to the very end,'" his wife said. "I wanted to do whatever I could for him, so I promised."

Shannon said she and Eric met in college and were together for 17 years. 

"Eric never thought he would die — I still, to this day, can't even believe that it happened," Shannon said.

Doctors, clinic and health authority response

The doctors and clinic have denied the allegations against them in a statement of defence.

Both said the hospital was responsible for sending a hard copy of the pathology report to the clinic, adding that it never arrived.

The doctors claim they couldn't have looked the report up electronically because they didn't have access to the hospital's computer system.

In a statement of defence filed on the hospital's behalf, the Interior Health Authority also denied negligence. It said normal protocol would have seen the document sent to the clinic by courier or fax.

The authority also alleges Eric "unreasonably failed" to follow up on the biopsy himself.

Insurance payout denied

In a second civil claim suit filed in 2014, Shannon claims she's also been denied $1 million in life insurance payouts following her husband's death.

That document said the Noltings signed up for a policy with The Co-operators in 2011.

According to the company's statement of defence, Eric answered "no" after insurance staff explicitly asked if he'd ever been treated for cancer or an "unusual skin lesion."

The Co-operators claim the "non-disclosure" voids the couple's insurance plan.

Shannon argues Eric couldn't have told the company about cancer he didn't know he had.

Her lawsuit seeks to have the $1-million insurance claim paid out, as well as interest and compensation for court costs.

"I'm not here to gouge people for money, I'm here to be fair," Shannon said. "I'm one single mother with two children ... Eric passed thinking we'd be OK."

Kids 'still don't have their dad'

None of the allegations in either legal claim have been proven in court — but regardless of whether she wins her lawsuits, Shannon said she's still walking away with one empty hand.

"No amount of money is going to fill a void that Eric could've [filled] being here," she said.

"[The kids] are doing good, [but] they still don't have that role model — that person that absolutely loved and adored them and to show things a dad would show them ... just what a great person he was — they miss that now."

A hearing for the case against the health professionals is expected to begin later this year. The lawsuit against the insurance company has been on hold since 2015.